Peak Thoughts

We “peak” in foliage in a season called fall. Photo: Steven Castle

It’s been peak foliage season here in New England. It’s a glorious, colorful time of year to appreciate the change in seasons. We’re making the transition from warm summer to dreaded winter, yet many claim this as their favorite time of year.

The eye candy is stunning at times. It can be like living in a kaleidoscope, or an impressionist painting that changes daily. Some seasons the colors so overwhelm me I can’t photograph it. Though usually I do.

This year I am thinking of the word peak, and all its various meanings and connotations. We “peak” in foliage in a season we call “fall,” after all.

We say the foliage is at peak—its most intense collective hues—at a time when the leaves that are doing the “peaking” aren’t peaking at all. Their declining production removes the green chlorophyll from them. They cease their magic of converting sunlight to energy, then they dry and wither and fall. They are sacrificed so the tree can conserve its resources through a cold, harsh winter. They litter the forest floor and compost to soil, which nourishes the tree and others. There is nothing sad about this. The death of the leaf gives life to that around it. A circle is complete.

There seems something sacred about our vibrant dropping of leaves, an annual ritual to arrive at those steel days of November and the blankets of snow to follow.

Peak can mean highest, strongest, greatest, best value, top level of skill. It can be the summit of a mountain. You can be in peak form, peak shape, give a peak performance. In slang, peak can be a cuss to an opponent. (What?) A peak day can be the most fertile time of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Peak time indicates busiest business hours and viewers on TV. PEAK used as an acronym can mean humiliating. (Huh?)

We talk about leaf peepers peeking at our peak foliage in this season called fall.

When do we peak as well? In our 20s and 30s and “earning years,” or later as our own energy wanes and leaves us. Our peaks can come at any time.

Did You Know?

Autumn is also called called fall in the United States and Canada because of the falling leaves. It’s the only season with two names. Sure, New England springs can be split into mud season and bug season, but it’s still called spring. And winter can attract many colorful modifiers—for a season devoid of most color. It still lacks an official nickname like fall. No one walks around here saying “It’s a lovely Autumn.”

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Steven Castle

Writer, photographer and storyteller. Author of The Really Good Life. Nature buff.

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